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Trigger for the Next Global Pandemic Is Right on Our Dining Table?

In March (2020), the coronavirus developed into a global pandemic. Philip Lymbery felt he must do something. The relationship between Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market was the most widely discussed topic in his country.


Philip believes that the problem is not merely an accidental animal to human transmission but rather the industrialized farming system under mass production. This system provides the perfect environment for virus transmission and mutation.


Philip Lymbery is the CEO of Compassion in World Farming and the author of "Farmageddon: The True Cost of Cheap Meat."


Based in Oxford, Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) is a world-leading charity organization that focuses on animal wellbeing. Operating in various countries worldwide, CIWF provides consulting and policy instruction services for the UN, WTO, the World Bank, and the European Commission.


In 2011, together with Sunday Times reporter Isabel Oakeshott, Philip carried out a two-year investigation on global farming, fishing, and industrialized animal product manufacture system. They reviled hiding problems behind these productive industrialized farms –antibiotics abuse, water pollution, epidemic outbreak, and food safety threat.

1756474475.jpgCIWF CEO Philip Lymbery (left)


"Though it's universally acknowledged that COVID-19 is closely related to wild animals, no one can be sure that the next pandemic will not come from flocks or herds in our industrialized farms. Human health is closely connected to the health condition of other animals. The mass productive farming system may put everyone at risk."



The Chinese version of "Farmageddon: The True Cost of Cheap Meat."


Philip thinks it's time to think outside of the box and discuss the breeding industry's future.


Q: The Good Food Fund

A: Philip Lymbery


Instead of blaming wild animals, we should think about our future: Is the trigger for the next global pandemic on our dining table?



It is written in your blog, "The new coronavirus outbreak is a critical chance for us," so I believe that you've got something that you want to share with us, right?



Yes. To me, the pandemic is more likely an "example" rather than a "waning." It shows us how vulnerable the world is. We've long taken animals as meat products produced in factories. However, what we think and what we have done leads to such horrible consequences. So, I think this pandemic is a chance for us to reshape how we treat animals and industrialized animal breeding. We need to think seriously about whether our eating habits will lead to the next global pandemic. Though threatening, it is true. If we retain the existing way of breeding, we may expect the next episode of global diseases.



Why do we need to do more than just ban the consumption of wild animals?



The most direct lesson we learned from COVID-19 is that selling and consuming wild animals should be prohibited.


But I think one other critical aspect is the great risks posed by factory-raised animals. In the factory farming model, animals are kept densely in cages, creating a perfect virus mutation and transmission environment. The avian flu and swine flu in the past decade is the best proof. The swine flu has killed 500,000 people worldwide.


Therefore, "factory-farmed animals" and this global pandemic are closely related. As our demand for cheaper meat increases, the threat posed by factory-farmed animals on public health is becoming more and more serious. At present, half of the world's arable land is already used to produce our food. Among them, 80% of farming land is used to feed the livestock for producing meat and dairy products. Our desire to eat more meat also forces us to reclaim more natural habitats.


The actual warning behind the corona pandemic is that we must treat and think about food more seriously. We should stop consuming wild animals in markets and change the industrialized farming production mode.


The Avian bird flu is a typical disease of wild birds, just like the common cold is to humans. But once this common avian influenza virus is brought into factory farms, where thousands of poultry are restrained in dark and dirty cages, the low-fatality epidemic will turn into something else.


This is why deadly viruses usually come from factory farms and markets where wildlife and livestock are densely kept.



So, it's like we are creating the "virus-producing system" ourselves?


Yes, the factory farm system is the Pandora box for viruses. What annoys me is that humans create this system, but we blame wild birds and animals for avoiding responsibilities.


Cheap meat, antibiotics... we have ten years left to change.



You also mentioned in the blog that we can change this industrial breeding system in 10 years. So, how bad is our situation?



Where are we now? As a society, we are on the edge of a cliff. Before falling off the cliff, we still have ten years. Many of the problems that are happening now are related to our food.


The first is climate change. Scientists believe that the time left for us to reverse climate change is only ten years.


Now, we must consider the public health crisis of the recent corona epidemic and the issue of antibiotics. Globally, 73% of antibiotics are used in livestock breeding to prevent diseases. These antibiotics return to our bodies with meat products. When long-term antibiotic abuse reaches a tipping point volume for human beings, antibiotics will no longer provide protection. The tipping point volume will be reached in several years.


Next is the loss of natural resources. By 2048, there will be no food available in the oceans. In terms of land, the United Nations warned that current farming and reclamation methods are causing soil loss. If we don't take any action, our arable land will no longer be suitable for farm use within sixty years. Besides, the numbers of pollinators, like bees, are declining sharply in China, Europe, the United States, etc. This will bring about more problems in ecological and food chain connection.

The above tells us that our civilization will enter a downward spiral ten years from now unless our food system undergoes a fundamental change.


It is our food that connects all these dire situations. It is also our food that changes the food system and can take us away from the edge of the cliff.

The first step is to change the way animals are raised and get rid of factory farms. By changing our diet and developing new technologies, we can reduce the total consumption of meat and dairy products, and we can alleviate the pressure on the planet.


The natural world provides us with air and water and provides us with food that could be produced sustainably and humanely. We need to reduce the pressure on nature while also creating a better future for our children. As the so-called Carpe diem (live in the moment), all we need to do is hurry up.



Just now, you talked about antibiotics, which have also been mentioned in "Outlook" magazine. However, we feel that it is also very complicated to change the entire aquaculture system and business model, as it involves prices and wellbeing. What do you think about this?



Yes, there is indeed a severe problem of antibiotics abuse. Most of the world's use of antibiotics on farm animals is essentially due to the factory farming model.


If they do not use antibiotics, factory farms are particularly prone to animal infectious diseases, which cause economic losses. Therefore, the key is to change the way of raising animals and keep the animals in better condition.


Under more natural conditions, animals can express their natural behavior. They have an innate immune system and do not need so many antibiotics.


If we continue to feed nearly three-quarters of the world's antibiotics to farm animals (mainly industrialized animal farms), we will quickly enter the "post-antibiotic era." When viruses develop antibiotic resistance, we may see antibiotic failure when curing diseases.


Specifically, if we continue to maintain the present status, then by 2050, antibiotics will no longer work. We will see 10 million deaths each year. Compared with the swine flu, which killed 500,000 people, which is already very serious.


That's why I say that we are walking to the edge of the cliff. To step back from the edge of the cliff, we have to change the way we produce food, which means that we need to end factory farming.



What do you think about the price of food? Do others say that if we breed fewer animals, the price of meat will go up?



In the long run, eliminating factory farming will make food prices more stable and make the future food supply more secure because plants are cheaper, and then you don't need to use so much food and plants to raise animals. We will have more surplus food so that the overall price will be lower.

In our current system, the development direction is "short-termism" because today's cheap food comes at the cost of future sufferings.


Today's "cheap foods" are not that "cheap" because the cost on the environment and our health haven't been included. These prices exist in taxes, environmental governance fees, personal medical care, and other expenses.


Therefore, we need to get rid of factory farming, let animals and ourselves live better, and eat more plant-based food. After all, plant-based foods have a more efficient and healthier way of production.


On the other hand, I think we should also focus on developing artificial meat. We could use new technologies such as stem cells to produce meat or plant meat, eliminating the need to raise animals on factory farms. In this way, we can produce safe meat that has great potential in business and environmental protection and has a lower "cost."



Another thing we see is the price threshold phenomenon. Many consumers have also expressed their desire to eat more organic and healthy vegetables and meat in China. Still, current data shows that only 0.5% of consumers will eventually pay to buy.



The issue of price is related to the system's efficiency and the agricultural subsidy system. The agricultural subsidy is a huge system, as it can change the market trend. Earlier, in many countries, factory farming seemed cheap with subsidies, even though this production method consumes more natural resources.


If policymakers encourage industries to adopt free-range organic and sustainable farming, the situation may be different. Policymakers may also adopt meat tax, which is a tax on meat from factory farms. This tax is used to subsidize good things, such as organically farmed meat.



When it comes to "artificial meat," we'll think of plant meat made from beans and fungal proteins and "cell meat" produced by stem cells. Do you think it is a short-term or a long-term trend?



I think this is definitely long-term. The era of obtaining cheap meat from industrially farming is over.


I think cell farming is the future trend. It is expected that by the end of this century, the current way of eating meat will become outdated.


We still eat meat, but the meat is produced with a healthy source from stem cells and plants. Of course, there will be some farm animals in the world, but they will be raised in a natural way rather than in the traditional factories. Meat is exclusive to the luxury market.

I think in this way, the world will become better.


Building a more sustainable food system is a long battle.


What is CIWF currently doing?


Except for the Beijing team, we work from home all over the world. Recently, we released a new report, "Whether the next major epidemic occurs on the dining table," which provides a lot of scientific evidence and reliable information to the government, enterprises, and the United Nations. The report contains a discussion about the relationship between factory farms and epidemics, etc. With this information, they can take action to reduce the amount of meat and dairy products.


We must seize the opportunity of the corona pandemic to create a "new daily life" – a safer and more humane life. This will also avoid the sufferings of factory-raised animals and wildlife and public health crisis.


As we have offices in Europe, the United States, and China, CIWF is devoting more publicity to companies and governments, urging governments and the United Nations to work together to shift factory agriculture to sustainable food systems. We need a future that no longer relies on cheap meat and dairy products.

This is what we are doing.



Can you tell us about your personal exploration experience? Why do you want to work in a non-profit organization for animal welfare?



Sure. I love bird watching. I have shown interest in wildlife and nature since I was a child. I started observing nature in the British countryside. When I was a kid, there were still many wild animals, such as birds and insects, in these places, but later, due to changes in farming and breeding methods, many birds and insects have disappeared from the farmland. This makes me very sad.


As I've gotten older, I have started to pay attention to farming animals. This is why I am now doing animal welfare works.


As a nature-lover, for many years, I feel fortunate that I'm able to take a group of bird-watching enthusiasts to observe the world, whether it is Seychelles, Costa Rica, the United States, the Spanish Pyrenees... I think this gave me inspiration and courage to defend the natural world.


The natural world takes care of us and provides us with air, clean water, and food. If we take good care of nature, it will give back the best that it can provide.



"Farmageddon" was published in 2014. For the past five years, do you think there is any change?



The public is becoming more aware of the threats posed by factory animal breeding. In particular, we use many grains and soybeans to feed farm animals, which results in massive waste. Earlier, this was not regarded as "food waste," but in fact, the food and vegetables that feed the livestock are enough to feed half of the entire population of the planet.


So, every year, 4 billion people's food is wasted in factory animal breeding. Animals convert these foods into meat, milk, and eggs. But the protein and heat conversion efficiency is fairly low. This problem has been universally recognized than before.


I think that since the publication of "Farmageddon," many companies around the world have been awakening. In China, farming companies have shown a strong interest in the CIWF's Global Farm Animal Welfare Award. In our awards ceremony, we see representatives from many Chinese companies. The Chinese delegation has always been the most enthusiastic advocator. This is a fascinating thing.


People's factory farming perspectives have turned from "a right way" to "a harmful way." I think this is the most significant change brought by "Farmageddon." The data and the epidemic outbreaks in the last decade illustrate one thing: how factory farms treat animals also poses a huge threat to humans and the environment.



When it comes to "big threats," we currently have a lot to talk about, for example, population explosions, climate change, global divisions, local wars and violence, extreme poverty, artificial intelligence, and new technologies brought about by technology ethics... What do you think of factory farming animals among these?



We indeed have many urgent challenges. But many of these issues are interrelated. But in conclusion, the overall challenges we are facing are about food and water. For every population increase of a billion people, an additional 10 billion farm animals are needed to be slaughtered every year, which will cause huge environmental pressure and resource insufficiency. Distribution processes brought by these businesses will cause more conflicts, war, and poverty.


It is also important to recognize other issues, such as the rapid population increase and aging. I named this book Farmageddon (out of control agriculture; Farmageddon translates directly, it is "farm end") for a reason, if we continue to raise animals on factory farms, I believe it will cause the collapse of our society.


It's right to look from a macro perspective. People are now more actively communicating these messages than ever before, mobilizing people and showing people how to help their lives through the diet revolution. But we also need to pressure policymakers, governments, businesses, and the United Nations, who have more capabilities to make significant changes. Therefore, seizing this moment can truly bring long-term changes to the future.



What are your plans for this year?


I'm writing a book called "There are 60 more harvests: turning the end of agriculture into the future of our children." The main idea is how the new corona pandemic urges us to change our diet and factory agriculture.

This is what I have been doing during home isolation. I am using Google Earth to visit factory farms around the world. It's funny, I didn't go to the United States or South Africa in person, but I "walked" into the gates of these farms with panoramic shots. Thanks to the Internet or I definitely would not be allowed to enter if I visit these places in person.


These farms are American cattle open-air farms. Enter the address on Google, and Google Earth will let you see the dusty farm and thousands of cows crowded together through this satellite lens, which is incredible.


Through the research of Google Earth and the Internet, I have collected materials for writing books. At the same time, you talk to people who run these farms through remote interviews. This is an incredible experience. You can visit the farm without flying, reducing your greenhouse gas footprint. Technology has become my eyes and ears, allowing me to get "close" to the actual situation there. We need to transmit all the information that the next pandemic is likely to appear on our dinner plate.



So, as ordinary people, what can we do?


Each of us has three opportunities every day. We can play our role well by choosing food. We can choose to eat more plants, eat less, and eat better meat and dairy products. If possible, eat more free-range or organic animal and plant foods from pastures to reduce the intake of animals and dairy products from "factory farms."


All of us can take action, participating in the world's environmental and agricultural conservation activities or engaging in projects of animal and nature conservation organizations.


From a public perspective, we can also advise the government and let the government play a leading role.


In the corona pandemic, the Chinese government quickly prompted action to secure public health.  We need similar leadership so that policies and government actions can help us stay away from the next pandemic. Suppose we want to prevent the next larger epidemic from a policy point of view. We need to change the factory animal breeding model and reduce the excessive consumption of meat and dairy products.



Do you want to say something to other institutions and organizations working for the same goals?



What we do is a marathon, not a sprint.

I have been working for thirty years, and the previous five years, I have been working as a volunteer. So, I have been working on animal rights and advocacy to stop industrial breeding for a total of thirty-five years. For such a long time, I have been looking for the best innovative method, whether it is through the channels of celebrities, government policymakers, or large companies. We need to communicate with the public in different ways. 


CIWF once carried out an online event, inviting stars to express "disdain for industrial pig farms."


Now, our efforts have been accepted by many European parliamentarians, companies, and celebrities. They are also happy to help us spread our message. Therefore, I feel that the continuous generation of content under this topic is like saying a new report, explaining the current situation, keeping writing, and keeping a voice with people participating.


Right now, I think the crucial thing is to provide the public with a way to participate. For example, we can discuss how to take action by eating and drinking, writing to the government or companies. This is what I want to say to these organizations that are working hard: stick to it. This is a long and arduous struggle, but it can have a tremendous positive impact.


Writer: Cui Qiwen

Editor: Nick

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